The news that you are expecting twins (or triplets) can come as a huge shock. While some people are delighted, others may be horrified, or anxious and stressed at how they will cope. The important message is not to panic: Many other parents gone through it and have not only survived the experience, but they have gone on to thrive with their babies.

Around 12,000 twin births occur each year. These numbers have been increasing since the early 80’s, though reasons are unclear. Several factors could play a role – the use of fertility drugs and assisted conception techniques such as IVF. Age is a strong factor in conceiving twins. Older women often have twins as they tend to release more eggs in one cycle than younger women.

You are more likely to have twins if there is a history of multiple pregnancies on the mother’s side, though the influence of the father’s family history is less clear. What’s certain is that if you already have non-identical twins, then you are five times more likely to have twins in your next pregnancy.

Identical or non-identical? 

Whether your babies are identical or non-identical depends on how they were formed.

Non-identical twins occur when a woman produces two eggs at the same time and both are fertilised, each by a different sperm. The babies are no more alike than any other siblings, and may be both male, both female, or one of each.

Identical twins occur in about one-third of multiple pregnancies. A single egg is fertilised then splits into two, creating identical babies with the same genes, physical features and sex. They may or may not share a placenta. Characteristics such as size and personality depend on non-genetic factors, so may be different.

Are pregnancy symptoms worse with twins?

You may have stronger pregnancy symptoms if you’re expecting twins, but it’s not always the case.

With two babies growing inside you, your levels of the pregnancy hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) are higher. This causes morning sickness, nausea and vomiting, and fatigue which may be much worse than in a singleton pregnancy.

You’ll also feel the effects of higher levels of the hormone progesterone, which can make you feel short of breath, especially early on in pregnancy, and cause heartburn, indigestion and constipation by relaxing your muscles.

Expectant mothers vary in size as in any pregnancy, but you can certainly expect to gain more weight than women carrying a singleton. In addition to the extra baby, there is extra placenta, amniotic fluid and maternal body fluid, so it is important to make sure that your core is strong and to exercise those abdominal muscles gently from the time you find out that you are expecting. Having two babies pushing up against your diaphragm can also make indigestion and breathlessness worse.

As the babies grow, keeping physically comfortable can be a challenge. Getting in and out of cars as well as negotiating seatbelts can become difficult, and you will probably be more tired with all the extra work your body is doing. Sleep can be hard to come by, so make rest a priority.

Taking care of yourself

Healthy, balanced meals are vital; ideally several small meals throughout the day to keep energy levels up. Slow-burning foods such as whole grain breads and crackers, vegetables, beans, oats, brown rice and whole grain pasta will tend to keep your blood sugar more stable and may satisfy you for longer as sugary foods which give you an instant boost can also result in unpleasant lows. You will need more protein, calcium, iron, folic acid and Vitamin B12 than in a singleton pregnancy, so make sure you have a varied diet. Try to eat little and often. Fresh foods are likely to give your body more of what it needs nutritionally than foods that have been processed. Taking a pregnancy supplement is also a good idea.

Gentle exercise during pregnancy can ease tension and help your muscle tone (and don’t forget those pelvic floor exercises!). Don’t do anything where balance is key, as your centre of gravity will be changing as your tummy grows. Low-impact sports like walking, yoga or pilates and swimming suit many people. Whatever you choose, start slowly and stop if you feel any cramping, pain or shortness of breath.

Try to look after your emotional wellbeing as well as physical health. The extra hormones can sometimes make you feel emotional and overwhelmed. This is normal, even though it may surprise or upset you when it happens, especially if it isn’t usual for you.

If you’re working, consider taking maternity leave as early as you can. Most mums-to-be of twins will finish work at 28 weeks. This makes sense because carrying twins is hard work, and most twins arrive earlier than single babies.

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Victoria Davis

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